Pleasing Others

I’m in the midst of a job change now after nearly 10 years, after somehow working my way into the Committed Club.  You know the Club, you’re probably in it too.  The Club is for people who go above and beyond, even when no one is looking, in order to please…. who exactly?

White Women, serigraph on paper, by Hannah Hislop
White Women, serigraph on paper, by Hannah Hislop

Even after giving notice, my manager is still pouring on the requests and I am still – still – trying dutifully to fulfill them, on my way out the door.  But instead of writing about his high expectations, I once again have to own this – this is me and now that it’s happened in two significant parts of my life, it’s clear that I am the common thread.

Yet another strand to unwind from this spool of yarn deconstructing all over my floor.

I did the same as a volunteer.  My organization of choice just happened to be the church. Now that we have attended a new church for a few months, my internal calendar seems to be prodding us to make a commitment.  Get involved, go all in.  Churches, like most community groups, don’t run by themselves and need volunteers to “step up” and sign up.

It’s so ingrained in me and many of us.  I hear both God’s church, and God himself, asking me to always give more, the two voices as indistinguishable as Yanny and Laurel: more dependent on the listener’s frequencies than on the speaker’s voice.

And I find that my ears are tuned to the voice of high standards, that I later resent.  That may be why I’ve always confused being highly committed and being an evangelical Christian. 

Christian = Committed

How is a Gift freely given, later thought of as earned by commitment?  When does Grace become Rest?  Maybe when I accept a Love so nurturing and sure of itself that it does not depend on me.

We start our faith journey full of hope but devoid of expectation – just glad to be in the doors and so are those who “prayed us in”.  We might be “on fire” at first and jump onto every Christian cardio machine in sight, sure it will build us up and make us strong.  We’re thrilled, and people are thrilled for us.  One day the calendar page turns, I do not know when, but we look up to see that the month – with its adjoining moral to-do list – is booked solid with obligations and they’re all for Jesus.  With such a cause we wouldn’t dare rotate the pencil to let the eraser face the calendar.

We might be “on fire” at first and jump onto every Christian cardio machine in sight

And once again, I have to own this.  Of course, I was classically trained as an evangelical co-dependent, in the school of laity-clergy equality.  But when I see myself doing the same at work, it brings me eye to eye with the subtle deference lying under the surface.  It could be called an asymmetrical relationship.  Where I am driven by a need to please, others may not be.  I’m plugging away, keeping up my end of a co-dependent agreement with someone – often a leader, a boss or pastor.  The problem is:  THEY are not in that same relationship with me.

Liz Lemon tries to please her boss, Jack Donaghy, and everyone else on 30 Rock

Perhaps without even knowing it, I carry an expectation of what they will do for me, or what we are accomplishing together.  I can delay that gratification for a long, long time; continuing to work hard along the way toward a common goal.  But they are seeing something else.  When I come to collect “my reward”, it is denied, and I feel resentful.

The reward might be recognition, a promotion, or even the freedom to lead as makes sense to me.  Or less selfishly, the reward could be in the form of seeing the organization go a certain way – thinking that together we were leading there.  But they may be traveling to a different station: we may have been aligned at some point but changed destinations without communication.

And I’m not in their shoes: they may have larger organizational factors to consider that I cannot see.  Or, I could be cynical and say they may have their own agenda.  In any case, I’m banking on relationship, and loyalty, to count for more than it should.

I can grow through this.

And this time that means starting over, taking a break from leadership, moving on.  I can make decisions that make sense to me.  At work, I’m leaving my management position and getting my hands dirty again with technical work.  (“hands dirty” must be a phrase from the industrial age.  The only mess from my keyboard and mouse are chocolate smudges from the snacks I eat while sitting all day). As I announce the change, I have to deflect comments that this move doesn’t make sense, that you want to “go up, not back”, you’ve been here so long, etc.  But in the organization of “me”, there are organizational factors they may not be aware of.

SF Staircase
Photo by WeekendSwell, San Francisco, CA

Another growth step is to see that most people make decisions as makes sense to them.  Layering over religious or organizational causes shouldn’t blind me to this.  This is not a judgement, it’s human.  The takeaway though, is that I can also make decisions that make sense to me.  It’s too common to handover my decisions in trust that others will make their best decision for me.

You may read me as reverting to childhood:  thinking only of me, me, me.  And my parenting self agrees, wanting my kids to think of others first, to work hard and expect return later, to grow past the adolescent folly that no one knows better than me.   All good.  But these lessons all defer to other people, without explicitly considering the self as at least one such “people.”

It’s too common to handover my decisions in trust that others will make their best decision for me.

My college-age self would never have guessed that adults don’t already set their own course, but somehow it takes awhile.  No matter our age, there are always people older than us, more vocal than us, presenting more surety than us, and we fall in line.  And thankfully, this can sustain us for long periods in beneficial ways.  But when it comes time to think for ourselves, we have to learn how to speak and seek our own path.

Here’s a pop quiz for to look out for:  am I feeling resentful toward someone?  It’s probably time to consider where my relationship is asymmetrical.  What is it that I am silently expecting of them, that I’ve been working for and not being repaid?  And did we agree on that exchange?  Could we yet agree by discussing it?  Or is it so entrenched in our relationship that taking a break would be the best hope to finding health?

I am feeling settled and standing a little straighter by making a few changes.  If I don’t keep growing in this, I’ll likely walk into a similar asymmetrical relationship with someone new.  Nonetheless, the air feels fresher, the way a newly licensed teenager rolls down the windows and enjoys the school drive so much more than yesterday’s carpool.  The road may go in about the same direction, but there is no joy like choosing the music and taking the wheel.

♦ weekendswell ♦


You might also like my post about a famous people pleaser whose younger brother was known as the prodigal son:  ” If we are pleasers, the thrill of achieving the patch on our shirt isn’t slowed down by asking if the patch is worth receiving. “


6 Replies to “Pleasing Others”

  1. This is “right on!” Seasons of life impact perspective–such a great move forward!!
    NO ONE ELSE has the power of choice for you, ONLY YOU!!


  2. Well said. The life of pleasing others is a life of drudgery, disappointment and frustration. Not the life we were designed to live, but which most of us spend a good deal of time and effort trying to design. It’s a life of slavery and bondage of our own making, not the life God had in mind for us. The only answer I have found at times, not as often as I wish, is “grace”. No one speaks more clearly about it than John Lynch and never as clearly as in this talk I highly recommend the 30 or so minutes.


  3. Gahhhhh!! I have so many thoughts about this! I’m also a little spooked by how my brainwaves and heartbeats are so eloquently expressed in YOUR words. Thanks for this. Damn, you’re good.

    Sent from my iPhone



    1. yes, this one stirred up a lot of conversation and now I know i’m not alone. But each person taking a step that makes sense to them spreads the confidence that it is possible, so for that I thank you…


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